My mother, Chickie Ling, Jerome, Arizona, around 1920

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Knew He Had to Grow up Some Time, But Did It Have to Be Today?

I stand in the driveway as Billy departs, pulling all of his worldly goods behind him (or, at least what he perceives to be the good stuff). He is joining his older sister three thousand miles away in Oregon. Since I have already lost one child to the Pacific Northwest, this doesn't seem quite fair.

Billy calls his small caravan "The Big Lug"; an allusion to the immense, unwieldy bolt that attaches the trailer to his car, and a name that also fits his often genial, and sometimes inert, demeanor. I am sobbing and my heart is breaking. At the same time, however, I'm envisioning the cleaning and rearranging of my living room; the room that he took over for the five months that he came back home to live with me, filling it with wires and circuits, Grateful Dead bootlegged tapes, a vibrating chair, and his big old smelly shoes - items all now being precariously hauled away in "The Big Lug" (by the big lug), thank God.

How can I own two such contradictory sentiments at the same time? I think that it has to do with that parent balance thing, how much you give how much you save for yourself. Although I'll miss him greatly, my little boy in his man's body, it will be nice to have my tidy, female life back.

It's not like he had never left. He had matriculated (and I use that term loosely) at a State University a couple of hours away, but, while not being underfoot, he remained within arm's reach. However, after four years, with no degree in evidence, his father and I agreed that he needed to come home, notably to my house since my ex-husband had his new wife and his new life. I, of course, was still primarily "Mom", and therefore, always available for found kittens and lost souls.

The edict to come home was tolerated only with great angst. Billy would have liked to have stayed in his comfortable college town surroundings with his friends but without the inconvenience of having to go to class. The problem was that he couldn't do that without our support. As always, money spoke, or, in this case, the withholding of money said it all. We finally starved him out.

I thought having him move back in with me, without the pressure of both work and school, might allow him to find some academic direction at our local community college, but that was not to be. After a couple of weeks of my best not-so-subtle brainwashing techniques, he finally told me, "Mom, I wish I could make myself want to finish college but I just can't right now."

So we came to a short-term compromise. He would find a job, deliver his fourteen-year-old sister to wherever she needed to be, save us from the boogyman, if he ever showed his ugly face (perhaps tie him to the vibrating chair?), and help out around the house. I, in turn, would board and feed and put up with him for free. In addition, he was to save his money for whatever life he decided to have in the future.

I knew I was on dangerous ground. What if he became too comfortable?
He might not ever leave. My cooking is pretty foul (even when it's not chicken) but I was offering it for free.

I need not have worried. He was obviously miserable, stuck in that never-never land of hometown four years after high school. All of his close friends had moved on, and the people with whom he worked in the local factory had little to offer someone who had seen the collegiate equivalent of Pa-ree. In addition, he was once again living with his mother, who thinks a late night is staying up for Ally McBeal.

He hated the assembly-line job, which was no surprise. He is very much a social creature and, to his mother's unbiased mind, a creative genius. The tedium and the isolation wore away at him even more quickly than I thought they would. Of course, my hope had been that he would take the blue-collar experience and turn it toward some ambition to finish college. Instead, he decided to move to Oregon!

I'll never forget the call. He reached me during his break at work. "Mom, will you be real disappointed in me if I move to Oregon with Melissa?"

I first wondered what his sister would think about the idea. She had her own life and struggles. Putting those concerns aside, I responded with my best motherly advice. "Billy, I won't be disappointed in you at all." (In fact, I was a bit jealous that I didn't have the courage to do something that outrageous, but I chose not to tell him that). "However, I will be disappointed for you if you can't create a good life for yourself. I just wish you had a college degree. It would make things so much easier." I didn't think that it was a good time to remind him that his sister, with her college degree, was currently waiting tables in a Eugene restaurant. I did, however, point out to him that there are factories in Oregon too, and that a move wouldn't necessarily protect him from low paying, tedious jobs. In addition, I warned him that I wouldn't be able to bail him out financially, for his sake as much as mine.

I know it's going to be so hard for him, this child of video games and creature comforts. He will, most likely, have to hit bottom and I'll need to lend him, not money as I have in the past, but a deaf ear. Of course, a bad time is better than no time, a hard life better than no life, which is what he would have had if he had taken the easy route and stayed with me. I am proud of him for having the courage to take that long trek out of his mother's reach.

In spite of his misery, Billy was a fine companion. In fact, his company was so good that I found myself turning down social engagements to do things with him. No one is as much fun as my irreverent, quirky son is. He made me watch movies that I wouldn't have watched on my own, with American History X being my favorite. He introduced me to web sites and technical innovations I will never be able to find or resurrect now that he is gone. He even got me hooked on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, something out of character for me, since I normally stay pretty much within the confines of HGTV (oh yeah, that and Ally McBeal). It got to the point where I was a little disappointed when he would set up a date with a girlfriend from college when she came through town. The least they could do would be to stay home and watch Regis with me!

Conversely, he could be a real pain. He certainly made his presence known, this male in an all-female house (even my dog and cat are girls). He belched, he slurped, he left a trail of boy trash - paper cups full of melted ice, Rolling Stone magazines, and dirty socks. At one point I told him, "Billy, I am not your maid." His droll response was, "It's a good thing because you're not very good at it."

It was, most definitely, time for him to go.

A couple of minutes after he pulls out of the driveway, my phone rings. It's Billy on his cell phone. "Well, I'm gone!" he asserts, assaulting me with the deeper meaning of that simple statement. Only two thousand, nine hundred, ninety-five miles (and his whole life) still to go. As I wipe my hand across my face to dry my tears, I keep wishing that my son were heading west with an MBA from Harvard. Instead, he is armed only with his unformed dreams and his untapped talents to face the world without his Mama. I say a prayer for his good journey and go back into the house.

As I stand looking at the mess that he left behind, I am, once again, reduced to tears with the bittersweet realization that Billy's now removed stereo equipment and entertainment center have left a big hole in my living room and in my heart.

Wait a minute! Come to think of it, I have a plant that will look great in that corner. I'll just water it and give it some fertilizer. All it needs is a little mothering. All I need is to do a little mothering. Good-bye, Billy. I love you.

1 comment:

  1. What a loving sweet story that really depicts your mother son relationship. I read, smiled and nodded and then shed a tear or two and smiled again at the love of it all. Beautifully written.
    Mary B